The Bronze Fonz, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Posted on
Jan 16, 2013

There are moments of my life that are so perfect, so ridiculously wonderful, that eloquence fails me.

You’d think that those would be the times when words would come most easily. But when you are surrounded by poetry, it is incredibly hard to create more of it. You simply look around, stupefied, and think, “Heh. This … awesome. Life … good. I … happy.”

That’s what happened one night when we were walking along the river in the Milwaukee.

Yes, Milwaukee. (I will kindly ask that you not look so surprised.)

By then, I was already sold on the town – I had started imagining what my and Rand’s lives would be like once we moved there (my checklist included: “buy a Packers jersey” and “learn to like beer”). It’s something that I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid. Of course, at the time, I didn’t realize it was Milwaukee – I just knew I wanted to live in the same world as Fonzie and the Cunninghams, to be neighbors with Laverne and Shirley.

(Parenthetically, I think one of the great missteps of my life is that I never found the Laverne to my Shirley. Which, after enough years, made me suspect that perhaps was the Laverne. But while I have the nose and the personality and the Italian ancestry, I don’t have the height.

Clearly, I have put waaay too much thought into this.)

And no, my wee brain didn’t register that those shows took place in the 1950s. I just figured that was how people dressed in the Midwest.

Milwaukee was so imprinted in my psyche that, even though I was seeing it for the first time, it felt familiar. Like I was finally meeting a not-so-distant relative that I’d heard so much about.

I was relishing in that feeling, one of long-awaited wholeness, as we walked around on a not-too-chilly night. Suddenly, our guide – a local – asked us if we had seen the Bronze Fonz.

“The what?” we asked.

“The Bronze Fonz!” she exclaimed, staring at us.

“Um …”

And then she ran off into the night, the rest of us, bewildered, taking a moment before following her.

By the water, she stopped, the rest of us at her heels. There he was, just as advertised: a bronze statue of Arthur H. Fonzarelli. A.k.a., the Fonz.

Some jerks had poured purple paint on him. People are animals.

He is not unanimously loved; a lot of people seem to hate the “Bronzie”. It’s been vandalized a number of times, with one local gallery owner closing up shop in protest of its arrival.

And indeed, there is something odd about it – the face belongs to some alien cousin of Henry Winkler’s. The forehead is too short, the hands are too large, and the scale is off just slightly. I think the Fonz was taller.

The complaints extend beyond just the aesthetic: that the $80,000 price tag was far too steep. That Milwaukee is far more than a setting for long-cancelled television shows which, if we must be perfectly, painfully honest, weren’t that brilliant even in their heyday.

But for me, it was my childhood, cast in metal, glimmering by the river on a calm Milwaukee night. And so I loved it.

It was all so wonderful, and silly, and surreal, that words failed me. They tried to form, but could not fulfill their office.

So I simply smiled, which soon turned into laughter, and all the while, a silent “Ayyyyyyy” played in my throat. Eventually I whispered the catchphrase, barely more than a sigh, and that was enough. There was really nothing more to say.

Leave a Comment

  • Robert

    The other criticisms of the Bronzie look on target, but I think the height might be about right. Henry Winkler is 5’6″. Maybe you were thinking the Fonz would be the same height you remembered as a kid — i.e. larger than life.

  • Gah. Everywhereist. Me…be…Laverne or Shirley. Although I am only 5’… If I wasn’t a zygote in age and stature we’d probably be twins. Huh. I just read that sentence again to myself. Nope, nothing weird or bizarre about it. SEND.

    No seriously. Be…twins…us? You live in Seattle, I sometimes exaggerate and say I live in Seattle although I have to ride the ferry there. You like cake, my blog’s name is a tribute to delicious baked goods.

    Okay fine. I’ll just love your blog from afar.

  • I LOVE the bronze Fonze! FYI – if you ever tour Lakefront Brewery in Milwaukee, there’s a Laverne & Shirley theme song sing-a-long when you get to the bottling line 🙂

  • Ayyyyy! I’ve been living in Milwaukee since 2009, a transplant from Illinois, and I too found the city to be a bit surprisingly nice to check out. The Fonz is truly worth checking out, along with a bunch of other little places. I highly recommend The Safe House, since it’s just as cheesy, if not just as awesome as The Fonz.

    • Andrea

      Agreed! As a non native, it’s a totally welcoming city. And, as Aimee Mann pointed out in her show in November, ever city has its creepy status and Bronzie is ours. (She’s even writing it into a new song.)

  • Desiree

    Milwaukee is by far one of my favorite places to visit. I completely agree with Matthew- go visit The Safe House! You will not be disappointed. I’ve tried multiple times to describe it to friends who have never been…it’s just beyond description, I think. Something you have to see/experience for yourself! I still think about the Burt Reynolds picture in the ladies bathroom…

  • Here in Philly, we have our statue love-hate relationship with a bronze Rocky. For awhile, he was perched at the top of the Art Museum steps where he ran up and cheered – for himself – in Rocky I. But, this was too much for the intelligentsia of our august metropolis, so he has been relegated to the bottom of the steps — off to the side. However, that’s ok, because every tourist makes his or her way to the Art Museum steps where they proceed to run up, (wheezing usually), thrust their arms in the air, and dance around while their buddy/husband/wife/significant other/random passerby takes a picture. Probably 90% of them then run down the steps, hop back on the bus and never enter our world class Philadelphia Museum of Art which is too bad.

  • Megan

    Awww… I’ll be your Laverne!

  • I am not much familiar with US sitcoms of earlier days, but the whole Idea of having a statue of a TV related individual is novel to me. You see here in India we have only politicians and gods idolized ( nowadays more of politicians)

  • 80,000!!!! What the what! There really are no words…

  • I am so glad you had such a great experience in Milwaukee. I am Wisconsin born and raised, but have lived out of state for more years than I’d like to admit to myself. When I moved away after high school, I couldn’t wait to get out – just like the phase where kids are embarrassed to be seen with their parents, I went through a phase where I was embarrassed of my state (we put cheese on our heads, so…). Once I was gone though, I realized how awesome of a place Wisconsin is to live (We put CHEESE on our HEADS!). I am proud of where I am from. Like, Texas proud. Accent and all.

  • Thanks for the reminisce down Memory Lane from my childhood! What a shame on the vandalism. LOL…I would have pegged you more for Laverne from reading your blog 🙂

  • Ha, that is too cool! Fun with statues (meaning taking pictures with and sometimes on) is one of my favorite things to do while traveling. The Fonz was my favorite character on Happy Days and now I feel like I need to visit Wisconsin. I only wish I had taken the time to see the Frank Zappa bust in Lithuania when I was there, random statues are so great. There’s one of Jimmy Hendrix on a sidewalk in Seattle, and one of Andy Griffith in North Carolina. It’s funny to think future archaeologists may look at these as we do the Sphinx or Buddha statues (not to make light of Buddhism but to be fair Fonziness is next to godliness for some folks) and wonder about our gods. Ayyyyyyyy!

    Anyhow I just found your blog while poking around on Go See Write, really loving it so far!

  • This may all be rumor but I have heard that Henry Winkler has photobombed some peoples pictures there. The story is his daughter goes to UW-Madison, so he is in the area occasionally. He apparently would hang around near the statue and make himself present in/around the groups of people taking pictures. Only for the groups to realize that this weird guy is the man the statue is of.

    Like I said, this may be false but it would be great is true.

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